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Criminal Justice

Prison and Jail Overcrowding in California

In the State of California, there are considerable challenges that are associated with prison overcrowding, due in large part to the government mandates set forth by state leaders to expand the allowable number of inmates in the prison system beyond maximum capacity (The Economist, 2012). In this context, it is observed that there are significant factors associated with these factors and how they impact the state’s prison population and the conditions that prevail under these circumstances (The Economist, 2012). It is important to identify the state-based agencies that are responsible for these conditions and to consider the alternatives that are available in order to better manage this population of inmates more effectively. The overcrowding problem represents a significant challenge for the state’s budget and judicial system and require additional consideration and evaluation to improve prison conditions and reduce overcrowding as best as possible.

The problems associated with the current prison population may be attributed to the state’s criminal justice system and how it operates. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been instrumental in developing methods to accommodate the US Supreme Court mandate to reduce prison overcrowding on a gradual basis, thereby creating an environment that offers more appropriate living conditions for inmates (2013). To be specific, “Under Realignment, newly-convicted low-level offenders without current or prior serious or violent offenses stay in county jail to serve their sentence; this has reduced the annual admissions to less than 35,000 a year. Prior to Realignment, there were approximately 55,000 to 65,000 new admissions from county courts to state prison” (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 2013). This mandate demonstrates that there is a significant need to reduce prison overcrowding in California by using specific practices to ensure that the number of inmates in the state’s prisons is reduced over time (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, 2013).

Creative approaches to better manage the prison overcrowding crisis in California require a greater understanding of the elements that contribute to this problem as introduced by state agencies. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been instrumental in shaping prison conditions and in reducing the number of inmates to combat overcrowding in recent years (CDCR, 2012). With the realignment process, “Under realignment, lower-level offenders serve their sentences locally, and lower-level offenders released from state prison are supervised by local probation officers instead of state parole agents… Realignment also ends the revolving door of parole violators returning to prison for only weeks or months at a time by having them serve their revocation terms in local jails rather than state prison” (CDCR, 2012, p. 4). This is important because it reflects the capacity to accommodate the Supreme Court mandate without having to release prisoners back onto the street who could pose danger to the general population (CDCR, 2012). However, the efforts made by the state to accommodate this mandate are only beginning, and additional work and strategic reorganization is necessary.

One of the most critical concerns associated with prison overcrowding in California is the development of methods to accommodate the existing poor treatment of many prisoners who are mentally ill and could transform themselves back into the outside world with the appropriate interventions (Cohen, 2013). This is perhaps the most disturbing trend that exists with prison overcrowding because there is no possible form of rehabilitation for these inmates under current conditions (Cohen, 2013). The Office of Policy and Management should play a role in reducing overcrowding by addressing the important obstacles that exist in addressing the mental and physical health of the state’s prisoners to prevent further decline in this population under inhumane conditions. This organization must develop policies that are likely to be influential in shaping outcomes and in improving the ability to provide much needed treatment to inmates who require these services as part of a larger rehabilitation program. Similarly, the Prison and Jail Overcrowding Commission should serve as a key driving force in the development of new perspectives regarding overcrowded jails and prisons through onsite evaluations of these facilities in order to better understand the issues that exist within these organizations and why overcrowding is of significant concern. The harm that is caused to the prison system must be addressed by field experts and other individuals who demonstrate an understanding of what is required to improve the management of these prisons to accommodate inmates more effectively and to treat them like human beings.

In recent months, the Governor of California has attempted to demonstrate that the problems associated with prison overcrowding have been solved and that there is little left to accomplish on this front (Thompson, 2013). It is important to identify the weaknesses that continue to prevail in the California prison system in order to accomplish the specific directives that will serve to positively impact the prison system and those prisoners who might be subject to rehabilitation in the future (Thompson, 2013). From this perspective, it is possible that expanded legislation to better manage the prison system could be considered that would perform the following: “Granting early release credits to “second strike” inmates who have serious prior convictions. Sentencing laws would have to be changed, and inmates who would normally serve nine months or less in state prison would spend their time in county jails. The state also could lower the threshold for sending inmates to firefighting camps, expand work furlough, restitution centers and alternative custody programs, and keep more inmates in private prisons in other states” (Thompson, 2013). However, these factors could always pose a risk to the general population, even if the risk is unintentional (Thompson, 2013). Therefore, it is important to recognize that a balance must be drawn to accommodate this population and its needs in a manner that is consistent with criminal justice objectives and principles to keep the streets and neighborhoods of California as safe as possible (Thompson, 2013).

In the context of this problem and the potential solutions that have been derived, it is important to identify other areas that might serve as potential indicators of success in promoting new objectives and considerations for the prison system that will accomplish the desired tasks accordingly. From a state-based perspective, there is a greater likelihood that by modifying laws to accommodate prison overcrowding, there will be additional risk to communities and individuals throughout the state. However, with the continued efforts in place to reduce prison overcrowding, there must be a balance between these objectives and the concerns associated with maintaining safety and adequate policing. It is difficult to obtain an effective approach to managing this population so that inmates, in spite of their status, should be provided with an environment that enables them to live in humane conditions. However, this is not always the case and represents a challenge to the State to balance the interests of the people and their taxpayer dollars with the improved management of the prison system.

From the perspective of state organizations, the prison overcrowding crisis in California is further exacerbated by the development of specific mandates that the State has not made any real progress with since they were passed down by the Supreme Court. Although the Governor sought to improve conditions, he and other state organizations have not taken sufficient steps to accommodate these requests, and rather, have faced critical challenges that continue to emerge. Therefore, it is important to recognize the issues that the prison system faces and the efforts that are required by state-based organizations in order to accomplish these objectives in a successful manner. This is a critical component of the practice of developing new perspectives that will reduce prison overcrowding while simultaneously improving conditions for prisoners. By using funds available to the state to accommodate these requirements, it is likely that there will be additional leverage as necessary to improve the prison system and the treatment that prisoners receive in the process.

The efforts that are made to accommodate the needs of the California prison system must represent the best interests of taxpayer dollars, while also balancing the necessity to create humane conditions for inmates. This is accomplished through the development of new perspectives and approaches to managing the prison system that are not currently in use and to utilize taxpayer dollars wisely to develop new solutions to these problems. These efforts must provide a greater acknowledgement that the prison system is in disarray and requires additional attention and focus from state leaders and experts. This is an important requirement to ensure that the state’s prison system is improved and the overcrowding issue is managed more effectively. There are many issues to consider in how the state currently operates its prison system; therefore, these discussions require an effective understanding of the elements that have contributed to the problem to begin with in order to ensure that the issues are managed as best as possible in future years. It is important to recognize these concerns and how they impact inmates, in addition to the concerns that are set forth by communities in terms of adequate policing and other endeavors to keep streets as safe as possible.

Various state-funded organizations must provide effective resources to promote improved conditions in state jails and prisons. It is important to recognize these challenges and how they impact inmates because considerable efforts are required to ensure that overcrowding is minimized and the treatment of prisoners is not inhumane. It is important to recognize that the state’s prison system is in serious jeopardy and it is necessary to evaluate current conditions in order to accomplish improvements in the system that go above and beyond what has already been accomplished. This is an important and essential component of the practices associated with expanding the state’s responsibility to improve the conditions within its prison system because these efforts will demonstrate recognition of these problems and a commitment to the improvement of this system over time.

References

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation(2013). 2011 Public Safety Realignment. Retrieved from http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/realignment/docs/Realignment-Fact-Sheet.pdf

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (2012). The future of California Corrections. Retrieved from  http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/2012plan/docs/plan/exec-summary.pdf

Cohen, A. (2013). Jerry Brown should (still) be ashamed of California’s prisons. Retrieved                from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/jerry-brown-should-still-be-ashamed-of-californias-prisons/274747/

The Economist (2012). The challenges of “realignment.” Retrieved from http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/01/16/pris-j16.html

Thompson, D. (2013). California prison population: Jerry Brown challenges inmate cap. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/08/california-prison-populat_n_2433421.html